there are only five miles of road between salem and spanish fork, utah. the road is straight and the only notable thing you pass is the radha krishna temple, with its domed roofs and grazing llamas punctuating a blank landscape. it’s an oddity in a place so entirely taken up by another religion, but aside from those structures there are mostly fields and foothills, or
at least that was how it was back then. i realize it’s probably different now. i haven’t returned there in years.
still, there are vivid memories of that road and what an empty stretch it was. one time while my family was driving north a dog flew out of a pickup truck’s flatbed ahead of us. he turned into a brown blur then struck the asphalt near the shoulder. the strange part is that when we pulled over we discovered the dog was young and unscathed. he was returned to his owner and we continued on our way.
but there was something else that happened on that road, something i don’t talk about with anyone because i have doubts. my mother had told me about it a few times: a story a friend had related to her during a church-related social call. why she felt she needed to tell me about it i don’t know. i was probably nine or ten years old. and yes, it has stayed with me for years. i can’t make sense of it, and i doubt you will either.
the woman who related the story said she was driving that stretch of road at night. it was the middle of winter so there were large snow banks on either side, dipping into the ditches then piling and blowing through barbed wire fences. all of a sudden a small brown rabbit dashed in front of her car. she hit the brakes but slid on the ice, striking and killing it.
now, there was nothing unusual about this, or
at least that’s how these stories often go. wild animals are struck by cars all of the time and it’s considered normal.
in my mother’s recollection this woman cried. she was upset at having killed a rabbit. also, she was upset because it could have been worse. she could have lost control of the car and spun out, striking something, or maybe gotten stuck in a snow bank or flipped over.
regardless of the reason, she was definitely crying. when she was done her conscience told her that the dead rabbit was her responsibility. she didn’t want to leave it lying on the bright white snow for other passersby to see. the problem was that there wasn’t a way to properly bury it. she didn’t have a shovel and the surrounding terrain was frozen solid. she sniffled as she cautiously shuffled across the ice and placed the dead rabbit in a shoebox, then she stowed it in the back of her car. seeing and handling its corpse was shocking but not altogether bad. it looked like it was sleeping, only there was blood around its nose and mouth.
after collecting herself she got back into the car and continued on her way, trying to calm herself after unexpectedly causing the death of something so helpless, but that only lasted a few minutes. it wasn’t long before she sensed something was wrong. to be sure she had to turn down the radio, then the heater. her senses were on full alert. she could hear something.
there was a rhythmic shuffling from the back of the car. it made her screech to another halt on the side of the road, then sat silent while the engine idled.
she turned it off to make sure. the shuffling continued. the rabbit is alive, she thought, then unfastened her seatbelt and bolted out into the cold, rounding the back of her car and opening it again.
she had no idea what she planned to do. this new reality was just beginning to set in. but when the overhead light turned on she saw that she was wrong. the rabbit was still dead. what surprised her was now there was two brown rabbits in that box. the live one stared at her, blood on its muzzle. its black eyes were open wide, looking at her from the side.
shock took over. she didn’t think. she just did. before any fear or confusion could set in she had taken the live rabbit out of the box, placed it on the side of the road and was driving again. her vision was blurred and yes, she was crying again, only in a more agitated way. maybe the stowaway had been the other’s mate. now she had permanently separated them. maybe they had babies stowed away somewhere, with less of a chance of surviving.
she tried to stop thinking about all of this. she wanted to it out her system before she got home and her children would inevitably sense something was wrong. she didn’t want that. she wanted to feel normal again. she reasoned that maybe she would put the rabbit in the freezer and when her husband came home he could bury it for her, or
at least that was the tentative plan. her thoughts didn’t get much further. the box was shuffling and moving again.
this time the woman screamed, almost losing control of the car again and sliding to a stop. her nerves were frayed. when she opened the back of the car this second time the shoebox was damp and red. its edges were warped. once again another brown rabbit was in the box, but this time it was looking at her head on. its mouth was hanging open and its front teeth were stained red. it took one glance to fully understand what was going on. this rabbit was eating the other.
this time there wasn’t shock. the woman was screaming. she grabbed the live rabbit by the scruff of the neck and shouted “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” before tossing it onto the nearest snowbank. once again the tears returned, only this time they were full-on sobs. she was more careful while shutting the back this time, making sure there was no way the second rabbit could get in, then returned to the driver’s seat a third time, hoping it would be the last, but
no… she didn’t get far. within five seconds she had driven over a bump.
she stopped the car, staring blankly into the darkness ahead. she couldn’t believe it. she didn’t want it to be true. but after getting out of the car yet again she saw the situation plainly: she had run over the second rabbit, who hadn’t managed to get far.
suddenly she wasn’t crying anymore. in fact, she didn’t feel anything. for reasons i never fully understood, she tossed both rabbits by the side of the road and drove away, not bothering to bury either.
the story was too compelling and macabre to forget. i heard it more than once and the images it left in my mind always bothered me. how was it possible? why would a herbivore spontaneously eat its own kind? why did i even know this story in the first place, considering how strange and dark it was? as an adult i asked my mother about it and related what i remembered, but
i was told she had never heard the story, had no idea what i was talking about and that i had probably made it up.
Hillary White lives in Minnesota with a cat named Lazarus. She has been previously published in Gargoyle, Clapper, Echo, Killing the Buddha and Smith Magazine. You can peruse her writing, video projects and mixtapes at the following link: campsite.bio/laudanumat33